อาหาร – Aah-haan (food)
เจ – Jae (vegan)
ถั่ว – Tua (nuts)
Southeast Asia can be an absolute haven for vegans. After all, this is the continent that gave us tofu and soy milk (as well as the Yakuza and Pol Pot but I guess you take the good with the bad). Depending on what part of Thailand you’re in, finding meals can be as simple as flipping through the menu but if nothing in there appears animal-free, I can give you the JFP guarantee (patent pending) that you can ask for it to be using the key words above. The main ingredients used are usually coconut milk, soy, bamboo shoots and a loads of curious looking veggies that may cost a shit-tonne back home but I’ve eaten meals for little over £1 here. Below are some traditional Thai dishes that I tried this trip. Warning: food here is generally soy heavy and may contain nuts.
1. Vegetable Thai Green Curry (แกงเขียวหวานเจ)
Probably the best known Thai dish. The curry consists of a watery, green (don’t ask why) stew of vegetables that’s light and refreshing. Made with coconut milk, it’ll have a mild sweetness to it but what really stands out is the tang. Zesty lime usually coupled with basil give the curry sauce a sour taste that I’d genuinely drink straight from the bowl. It can range from “give me a colostomy, I regret everything” spicy to a pleasantly mild pep (that’s a medium on the Nando’s scale). Typically made with green beans, eggplant and bamboo shoots, these add a solid chunkiness to it without really altering the flavour of the broth.
2. Red Curry with Tofu (ฉุ่ฉึ่เจ)
More curry (I honestly don’t know where they even come from) to add to the list – red curry with tofu. Similar to green, the sauce has a huge impact on flavouring and what separates it from its She-Hulk cousin is 1. It’s fucking red and 2. It’s generally less sweet. A small amount of curry sauce goes a long way here because the main focus is the tofu chunks. One thing to note regarding tofu from Southeast Asia is that it’s usually a lot softer or creamier than its European counterpart. For the particular one pictured, it was like sinking my teeth into cream cheese (except, you know, not gross).
3. Tom Kha Jae (ต้มข่าเจ )
Tom Yum (the most common of which is the Goong/prawn variety) is a pretty watery soup packed with a literally a million veggies. It usually comes in a milky white stew. Expect it to be quite refreshing in its lightness but also incredibly filling. The vegetables used vary but every broth will contain lemongrass, lime leaves and chillies giving it a spicy citrus feel. You’ll typically find the vegetables are soft and boiled but should still have a decent bite to them that give the meal some texture.
4. Pad Key Mao (ผัดขี้เมา)
If you’re here looking for something to arc weld your butthole shut with spice, this is the one. Pad Key Mao is a stir fry consisting of thick, wide rice noodles (literally all we eat is rice) that are a little soft, a little chewy and coated in the hottest damn chillies I’ve ever tasted. You’ll almost always find chillies, basil leaves, pepper, mushrooms and garlic in this dish but it can come in many forms. It’s got strong, herby flavours and a great smell but it’s usually overshadowed by the fact you’re crying, your mouth is also crying and your life has turned to shit.
5. Tofu, Chillies & Cashew nuts (เต้าหู้ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง)
Finally, something for people who aren’t keen on death by chilli. Stir fried tofu chunks with nuts, onions, peppers and chillies in a thick, ginger-y syrup. It’s sweet, a little peppery and hot at best but you usually won’t find it unbearably hot. The tofu in these dishes remains quite soft/spongy and pleasant as it’s unusual in Thai culture to stir fry the shit out of something.
To round things off, Thailand has more fruits than co. If you’re after something to cleanse the palate after dinner here are a few to try. Mangosteen (a round purple-skinned fruit with white segments) is sweet and soft akin to an incredibly strange orange. Lychee, Rambutan and Longan are all fairly similar in that they look like small gelatinous eyeballs and they have that jelly like texture. All three are sweet and great to snack on.
In between visiting markets and temples, buying baggy elephant trousers and beer chang singlets and attending the Full Moon party (in which case, get the fuck out of my country) – the dishes above are all a must try whilst in Thailand. Regardless of where you go, eating vegan in Thailand should be the least of your worries.